Friday, April 1st, 2005

View Eight: A Few Domestic Objects Interrogate A Few Works of Art

Mary Boone Gallery
745 5th Avenue
New York NY 10151
212 752 2929

Tom Friedman Untitled 1999/2002 wooden school chair, 35 x16-½ x 24-½ inches Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery
Tom Friedman, Untitled 1999/2002 wooden school chair, 35 x16-½ x 24-½ inches Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery

As Marx claimed, in the introduction to his Critique of Political Economy, consumption is production. Taking this as his premise, Bruce Ferguson, Dean of the School of the Arts at Columbia University, has curated a show which is at once understatement and spectacle at Mary Boone .  In the world of art and leisure, commodity and concept collude to leave behind artifacts, treasures, objets d’art.

In this group show, the aesthetics of interior design expose the world of exchange contemporary artists find themselves compelled to compete in.  The logic is simple: people buy things.  Lamps, chairs, pots and various vessels, et cetera, even art.  It’s clear that, despite their initial appearance as everyday items, these are Artworks, meant to be appreciated for their application of skill and judgment, but not used in any functional sense.   They are precious.

In the gallery, one feels the splendid quality of what money could buy.  Art, here, reflects the domestic object, taking its outward appearances, such as table or bench, but dispensing with its more bodily functions.  The discourse on the found object comes to a grinding halt and we wallow in the allure of style itself.

Josiah Mc Elheny Landscape Model for Total Reflective Abstraction 2004  mirrored glass objects/mirrored glass table, 18 x 69 x 58 inches Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery
Josiah Mc Elheny, Landscape Model for Total Reflective Abstraction 2004 mirrored glass objects/mirrored glass table, 18 x 69 x 58 inches Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery

Everything fits snugly into a decorator’s paradise.  Ken Price’s erotically charged clay pieces are colorful in a ruinous way.  It is Rodin by way of Ren and Stimpy, their forms spotted with a sensual leper-like skin of paints. Sachio Hitare’s immaculately lacquered “Obi Bench” is an orange form curving and bending along the floor recalling the luxury of custom car culture in its precision and ease.  Josiah McElheny’s “Total Reflective Abstractions” lingers in the ether of decadent pleasure: mirrored objects on a mirrored tabletop, pristine and perfect to the point of fascination, which is arguably what the obsession is all about.

These items are selling themselves.  The rich surfaces and studied arrangement excite desire as they mimic the representations of actual objects, objects whose use value has been omitted, art objects by default.

Two artists stand out as voices of clarity in the muddle of desire.   Tom Friedman’s school chair, drilled into skeletal oblivion, sits dolefully on the edge of the gallery.  It seems unconcerned about attracting buyers (though a $95,000 price tag and subsequent sale does affirm the position of the artist and gallery).  It’s a morbid irony that the violence he inflicts on an ordinary chair has been trophied to such a degree.  The addition of Lee Bontecou’s work seems odd at first.  Bontecou’s rough-hewn formalism spits in the eye of décor yet in this setting becomes theatrical prop, adding a dose of agitation to the ether of opulence. The work is subject to adoration and adulation, hung on the wall as a symbol of deeply felt sentiment coupled with the ethos of the struggling artist.  It’s meant to anchor the mood and tenor of a room that is otherwise too clean, too surgical, too meticulous.  Its inclusion transforms it to an object of subjugation, effectively transforming Bontecou’s work into an interior design device, retro-fitted to the same rigors of fashion, seasonal tastes, and charms.

The show is great for those seeking an affirmation of values based on exclusivity and the attainment of “high” goods.  Ferguson has definitely exemplified the sense of slippage that exists today between art forms and craftwork.  That alone could be the most redeeming quality of the show.  But this is a manipulation of the senses, a filling of the void of unease and uncertainty created by the slippage we experience, with objects of desire.  This is what commercialism is largely about, but not necessarily art.  The show does not provide a forum for the contemplation of ideas on objecthood or the function of art versus, or in dialogue with, functional design.  With the exception of Friedman and Bontecou, whose works do address the fundamentals of form and our expectations of functionality, the show exemplifies a marketplace where the tools of production satisfy the accumulated tastes of the elite.  Not many people would posses such finery, even in today’s luxury-oriented market.

This is what exposes and undoes the potential strength of the show, what Kant refers to as a lack of “delineation”.  What does it mean to curate if not to pass judgments on taste?  What does it say of taste, or judgment, when we find the purely sensational on parade? There is simply no interrogation to be found.  The exhibition presents art as decoration without challenge.   Which seems rather flip. One hopes that the overseers of the art world retain the gumption to engage us in our consumption of the beautiful in a meaningful way, rather than merely purvey fine goods.  We sit in awe of the exquisite but undergo a loss of power; it is grist for the slippage, however neatly organized.